“The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them — preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.” ~ Richard Branson

Have you ever stopped doing business with a company or brand because they didn’t live up to your expectations? Or to their brand promise? I have to think the answer is probably yes.

It happened to me a few weeks ago.  I brought my car into a nationally known auto center near my house to fix a noise I was having with the air conditioner. I asked the manager who was writing up my order if he wanted to hear the noise, but he said no, his mechanics would run a diagnostic test and figure out the problem. A few hours later I got the call that the problem was fixed.

I think you know the rest of the story. I went back to get the car, paid the bill that was over $200, and the moment I started to drive away, the noise started again, exactly the way it sounded when I brought it in that morning. Frustrated and angry, I went back in, spoke to the manager, (who was not happy when he saw the look on my face when I walked through the door) who now decided it would be a good idea to come out and hear the noise.

After 20 minutes of back and forth with his mechanics, he told me to leave the car overnight, and they would have it fixed the next day. There was no apology.

A few weeks later, I actually gave them a second chance to fix a minor repair, and again they failed to fix the problem correctly. This company destroyed the trust I had placed in them. Suffice to say I have not been back, which is a shame because it is so close to my house, I would have used them for all my car repairs.

Were my expectations too high that this company would fix the problems with my car the first time?

The key to getting, keeping and creating enthusiastic brand ambassadors for your company is to set and manage customer expectations so they will keep coming back for a lifetime. It is important to remember that you make an impression on your customers before you even meet them. It could be through your marketing campaign, your branding or even social media posts, both negative and positive.

Customers have two types of expectations: those they already have, and those that you, as a business, create.

When creating and overseeing customer expectations, it’s important to remember:

  • Make sure your brand does not promise what it cannot deliver. It is much better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around.
  • Constantly re-visit expectations
  • Create a “whoa” or a “wow” moment. Customers love to be surprised (in a positive way!).
  • When something goes wrong, or a promise can’t be kept (which invariably will happen), apologize and make it right immediately. Add a little something extra that was not expected (a small gift, a discount on a future service or even a cookie!), and follow up in a few days to make sure they are pleased with the resolution.
  • Value your customers’ trust. Once it’s gone, it is almost impossible to get back.
  • Don’t oversell your products or services
  • Pay special attention to time periods. If you say a product will be delivered by Wednesday, make sure it is not delivered on Friday. Better to tell them Monday and deliver by Thursday. (This happened to me the other day. We were told our table at a restaurant would be ready in 15 minutes, and it turned out it was ready in five! We were pleasantly surprised and it started the meal out on a positive note.)
  • Practice great communication skills, no matter how you were contacted. (Phone, email, live chat, social media, etc.)
  • Don’t put new hires on the customer service front line. The worst thing to hear is, “I’m new here, let me go ask my manager.” Arrgggghhhh.
  • Always, and I do mean always, value and appreciate your customers and clients.

If that car repair business had just taken the time to fix the car right the first time, it could have been a win-win for both of us. They did not have the right processes in place to make that happen. It would have met my rather low expectations, which would have resulted in repeat business and customer loyalty.

It did work out for me in the end.  I found a great car mechanic who is honest and professional. He is a bit further away, but I never have to worry if my car will be fixed correctly. He exceeds my expectations every time. Isn’t that what your business should be doing?

What are some of the business fails you have experienced? I welcome your comments below.

Paul Rutter is a customer loyalty, repeat business and customer service expert, a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and business author. He has had the unique opportunity to live with his customers and co-workers for months at a time traveling the world, and shares his experiences with land based businesses. For more information on More Than Perfect® Service, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com, follow him on Twitter on @RealPaulRutter or visit him on Facebook/PaulRutterSpeaks.

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